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Date of Issue: December 06, 2007

City to appoint school resource officer

Anna Maria Elementary School’s attendance may go up by one by year’s end.

The city of Holmes Beach is moving to name a new resource officer to serve at the grade school, 4700 Gulf Drive.

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said he hopes to have a new school resource officer in place prior to the start of the spring semester.

“This is the best news that I have heard in a long time,” said Tom Levengood, AME’s principal.

Levengood said the school resource officer is “absolutely essential” at the elementary school.

“Even though AME doesn't have the discipline problems and crime many of the other schools do, it is extremely important for our students to have contact and a relationship with law enforcement.

“More importantly, having someone to teach the DARE program to our students before they move on from the shelter of our little Island community to middle schools and high schools and all that is entailed there.”

HBPD Chief Jay Romine added that the community policing position - first established with a federal “COPS” grant in the 1990s - is law enforcement prevention, reaching an audience before any trouble can begin.

“Wouldn’t we rather prevent something than clean it up afterward?” he said.

The position had been held by Holmes Beach police officer Pete Lannon, who died June 1 after a yearlong fight against pancreatic cancer.

Lannon, widely loved in the community and school, served as a crossing guard at AME and taught the school’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education or DARE program. Lannon even received a statewide honor for his commitment to DARE, an annual award that will be named for Lannon in future years.

For much of 2006, while Lannon battled his illness, DARE was not taught. Nor has the program been taught during the fall 2007 semester at AME.

Lannon’s death created a vacancy, but a hiring freeze at city hall kept the post empty.

Bohnenberger, expressing budgetary concerns, initially said he wanted to wait to see what consequences might come from a constitutional amendment on property taxes on the January presidential preference ballot.

But last week the mayor said the city was seeking to fill the resource officer post.

“We’re starting the search,” Bohnenberger said.

He added, “It’s really important to try to get these kids started on the right path.”

Levengood had talked with other school officials about incorporating another anti-drug program, Crossroads, into AME’s classrooms.

But last week the principal and the mayor were giving DARE the edge.

“I have seen both programs and feel that DARE is the best of the two,” Levengood said. “I know that Crossroads has been rewritten. I have seen it, and it does look better than it did. But I still would prefer DARE, because it was such a success here at AME and in the community.”

HBPD’s current officers have been asked to think about seeking the position.

“You want somebody who is enthusiastic about doing the job and who can relate to kids,” Bohnenberger said. “Hopefully we can get somebody who can establish a good rapport with the students.”

Romine added that the person who takes the job must have “the ability to communicate. You’ve got to relate and you’ve got to communicate. And you’ve got to have a certain amount of sincerity. That’s why Pete was so good at the job. He really cared.”

Regardless of whether the post is filled by an officer currently with the department or from outside city hall, Bohnenberger said a new employee would be needed.

“We’re not at full strength now,” he said.

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